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Black winemakers are climbing up the vine

November 18, 2020, 9:00 PM UTC

The U.S. has over 8,700 wineries, but less than 1% are Black-owned or have Black winemakers. Two sisters, Andréa and Robin McBride, started the McBride Sisters Wine Collection with the goal to transform the industry.

Following the killing of George Floyd, nationwide protests sparked conversations about the impacts of racism and ways to better support Black communities—including their businesses. In July, Black business owners across industries shared their work during the social media campaign Blackout Tuesday, and the McBride sisters were determined to raise awareness of Black vintners. 

They made and shared a list of 86 vintners on Instagram with a reminder to their followers: The power was in their hands.

“Repost this to your social handles and tag the retailer where you buy your wine and ask them to bring in your favorite black-owned wine brand,” they instructed in the post. “Walk into your favorite store (wearing a mask of course!) and tell them about a black-owned wine brand that you would like to try and would support with a purchase.”

The post went viral as celebrities such as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union shared it on their pages.

“I actually got emails from retailers thinking that I had, like, armies of salespeople out across the country,” Andréa McBride says, laughing. “They were getting emails from their store managers saying, ‘We keep on getting people walking in here.’”

Before May, the McBride Sisters could be found in 84 stores in the country. Today, they say the brand can be found in 2,697.

Now more Black winemakers are getting attention too.

Lindsey Williams of Davidson Wine Company has been in business only a little over a year, but after July she began receiving inquiries from national retailers, she says, and restaurants in California and New York.

Lindsey Williams owns and operates Davidson Wine Company.
Courtesy of Davidson Wine Company

“I remember getting tagged in several things during this new normal, and next thing you know, one of the big-box stores is following me on social media,” says Chrishon Lampley, who founded Love Cork Screw. “And that turned into a wildfire of other big-box stores actually now responding to my emails, so customers have huge power.”

“There’s this perception that African-Americans aren’t serious about wine and we don’t have the capability to learn about wine,” Lampley says. “And that’s just wrong.”

Customers are flooding the Instagram account Black Girls in Trader Joe’s with comments as they hunt for Black-owned wines at their favorite grocery stores. (“Did you find it? Go check out this one.”) This community of Black foodies celebrates each other’s finds and bands together to help those in unfortunate zip codes. (“Mine doesn’t have can someone ship me a bottle.”) And they demand their stores add wines to their inventory. (“The Union Square Trader Joe’s wine store needs to get on this by the time I return to work.”)

McBride says that before Black Girls in Trader Joe’s posted about their bottles, their products could only be found in some Trader Joe’s locations. Weeks later? They were in Trader Joe’s nationally. 

“I think that’s a really good example of how they advocated for us and were loud enough—we can be economic activists. We have spending power,” McBride says. 

Williams says visitors travel from up to four hours away to come to Davidson Wine Company in Davidson, N.C. “I think that’s a testament to how much people want to go somewhere where they can enjoy wine—or try wine for the first time—and really look at somebody and see themselves,” she says.

Keeping the momentum going for Black-owned wines is easy, says Greg Markell Lawrence, cofounder of Markell-Bani Fine Wines. If you’re a consumer, he says, subscribe to your favorite wine club and imbibe. And for people of color who are really passionate about wine, the industry needs you. 

“The only way true elevation and change will take place is if more Black entrepreneurs get into other aspects of the wine industry,” Markell Lawrence suggests. “If we do that, we will not have to go to other people to make, distribute, package, and sell our wines. We can do it ourselves without having to rely on others.”

But Black wine lovers say they lack access.

“There are no how-to guides on how to start in the wine industry,” says Donae Burston, the founder of La Fete du Rosé. “Given the amount of money it takes to buy a vineyard and to produce wine, opportunities would historically be only afforded to those with money or social status and pedigree.”

The McBride sisters started a fund to help Black women entrepreneurs grow their business. In 2019, the SHE CAN Professional Development Fund reported contributing $40,000 to helping women attend wine industry conferences and pursue educational opportunities in wine. This year, the fund aims to help small-business owners overcome lack of access to credit or venture capital by awarding them $10,000.

To provide people of color a fun space to learn about wine, the sisters also created a virtual wine school. Through Facebook modules, their course teaches the nine varieties of wine and their traits with the help of major pop icons. Beyoncé? Definitely sparkling Champagne. Rihanna? She feels more like a Sauvignon Blanc. 

“People have been making wine for 8,000 years, and for the last 200 years, it’s been dominated by really one group of people,” McBride says. “There’s an opportunity here to bring a fresh perspective to energize the experience.”